There is a rather amusing blog entry on Richard Carrier’s site where he interviews philosopher Susan Haack (May 6, 2012). The reason I think it is so funny is that rather than coming across as a serious interview, it looks like Carrier simply found a way to use a real philosopher as an unknowing prop to further promote himself and his ego.
For starters, the interview is 7901 words long. Yet 2307 of those words come from Carrier. In other words, in a blog entry that is supposed to be an interview of a highly respected philosopher, almost 1 out of every three words comes from Carrier. This is because instead of simply asking questions, Carrier likes to pontificate on various topics to create the illusion that he is on the same level as Susan Haack. While his fans may lap this up, those of us who rely on critical thinking as we navigate the internet see it differently. Let’s look at a few juicy Carrierisms that are found in this interview.
Early on, Carrier tries to elevate himself to Haack’s level and continues to represent himself as a philosopher. He writes:
Which naturally leads me to my next question. Your work has inspired and influenced me as a philosopher, and I think it has made a significant impact on the field.
Yet all of Carrier’s degrees are in History (while Haack’s degrees are in Philosophy). I guess if one wants to promote himself as a philosopher, Carrier does not think obtaining an actual formal education in philosophy is required. Not surprising I suppose, since we are dealing with someone who compares himself to Aristotle and Hume.
His first question itself also leads to some amusing insights. He asks:
Why did you choose a career in philosophy?—and I don’t mean as a teacher, but as a philosopher, actually doing philosophy?
Given that Carrier has no position in academia, as far as I can tell, it would make sense he would try to downplay Haack’s role as a teacher of philosophy. But note her reply:
And I’m also uncomfortable with your distinction between teaching philosophy and, as you say, “actually doing it”; because I often find that, as I teach my philosophy classes and am prodded by students’ questions, I have figured out something, or managed to articulate something, that eluded me before.
That’s a very good point. Teaching has been a help to me as well, in formulating my views. It’s true. The questions students ask are often sparks that ignite progress in our thought. Well worth remembering that!
Huh? He first explicitly states “and I don’t mean as a teacher, but as a philosopher, actually doing philosophy” and then acts like she gets it right in noting the distinction between teaching philosophy and “actually doing it” is somewhat contrived.
Even more strange is Carrier’s attempt to now represent himself as a teacher. Just who in the world are his students? Where does he do this teaching? He writes:
Even so, it is important to state all you do to anyone who might be contemplating getting in the field. Those negatives need to be kept in mind. Although I think they aren’t wholly inevitable, since even a non-prestigious teaching job permits a lot of time to produce real work (I know published philosophers who actually prefer community college appointments for that very reason), and someone can make use of at least an M.A. in philosophy to publish on philosophy in the context of other careers (novelist, lawyer, working in cognitive science or other sciences).
Here he is trying to say something along the lines of “you can still be a world class philosopher even if you don’t have a prestigious degree or position in Philosophy.” In other words, he is trying to use this interview to try to legitimize himself as a philosopher. Okay, so does he have a position at a community college? Not really:
And I have the radical idea that a woman with a Ph.D. in philosophy could work full time as an independent researcher supported by her husband–or wife (I have a similar arrangement with my wife, I split my time between housework and researching and writing philosophy and history, while she brings home the bacon and has no domestic responsibilities). And as for the rest, forewarned is forearmed.
So it turns out Jerry Coyne’s scholar and the man who describes himself as a renowned author and philosopher is a stay-at home husband. His wife “brings home the bacon” and he sits in his armchair and philosophizes. So now I think I know who his students are supposed to be – the people who read his blog. Y’know, the people whom he describes as avid fans.